Voter Identification Laws – Jim Crow for the 21st Century?

Last March, I performed my civic duty, casting my vote in the Maryland primary election. [For the record, I voted for Buddy Roemer although he had a week or so before ended his campaign for the presidency.]

When I showed up at my designated polling location, I pulled out my drivers license to present to the election judge in order to verify my identity. I was then informed by the judge that Maryland neither requires, or in his case, wants to see a picture ID to establish that I was who I said I was – he then proceeded to ask me questions for which all the answers would have been available had he just looked at my license!

I mention this because this election cycle will mark a departure, in several states, with regard to how voters satisfactorily identify themselves as legal voters.

Voter identification and the means of confirmation has become yet another partisan issue. In all cases, the states seeking stronger, or more stringent, voter ID laws are the proverbial “red states,” those with a Republican governor and a majority GOP legislature.

In theory, it is hard to argue the logic behind the requirement for “proof” that a voter is who he or she says they are; however, in practice, this is possibly the most insidious attempt to disenfranchise legitimate voters since the end of Jim Crow.

It is, without question, equivalent to a poll tax. Some states, Texas for example, require that voters proffer a “suitable” identification to confirm identity. Suitable would include common sense identifications such as a drivers license or a valid state identification card.

So what makes this insidious you ask?

It is problematic, when residing in locales where the government infrastructure responsible for issuing suitable IDs are located over 100 miles away. In order to obtain the “correct” ID, registered voters will be required to trek to a motor vehicle office (or equivalent) — everyone’s idea of fun! — stand (or sit) in line and hope they brought the “right” documentation allowing them to receive the “right” ID. In some cases this would require many of the working poor or invalids to take a day off from work to devote to obtain a voter ID despite the fact they are already registered to vote.

Source:  Note that the locations marked in red icons are closed.

Democrats have cried foul as a disproportionate number of those impacted by these laws include minorities and the poor — people that do not own or operate motor vehicles and are reliant on public transportation in order to make a living — and overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

Interestingly, a recent article indicates that Republican efforts to restrict who can vote could potentially backfire, as these new laws will actually impact traditional Republican voters even more than Democrats.

You would literally have to see the world through partisan glasses to not see that these voter ID laws we’re not intentionally designed to favor the GOP and erode the vote of Democrats.

It costs money to get the approved identification if you don’t already have the obvious documents. And the motive for the laws now is just as suspect as then. Pennsylvania Republicans have done us the favor of making this clear, in the statement of state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.” Link

First, a threat of voter fraud was used to justify the need for stronger voter ID legislation. By all accounts, this “threat” is so infinitesimal that it wouldn’t register as a statistical blip. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that:

Because voter fraud is essentially irrational, it is not surprising that no credible evidence suggests a voter fraud epidemic. There is no documented wave or trend of individuals voting multiple times, voting as someone else, or voting despite knowing that they are ineligible. Indeed, evidence from the microscopically scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often.

Rigging the electoral game is part and parcel with politics — it happens transparently every 10 years when congressional districts are redrawn. This is, and is not, a pure partisan issue – in the sense that both parties are equally guilty of the practice of gerrymandering. To put this in context, take a look at the 2nd Congressional District in my home state of Maryland:

Given that voter fraud is not the true impetus driving voter ID laws, it is impossible to ignore the real motivations behind these laws.

I’m not at all against a requirement that calls for presenting a photo ID when heading to the polls, in fact, I’m completely in favor of it; however, rushing the implementation, especially in an election year, without providing adequate time to comply, or an adequate infrastructure to deploy the required IDs in a timely manner effectively disenfranchises millions of voters that would have otherwise legally voted in November.

Whether this impacts Democrats or Republicans disproportionately or equally, the fact that millions of people who legally voted in 2008 will likely be denied this basic right of citizenry in 2012 – why are we not angry about this?

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2 Responses to Voter Identification Laws – Jim Crow for the 21st Century?

  1. Frank says:


    Things you need an ID for that many of these people who voted in 2008 probably have done:
    Driver’s license
    Buy alcohol
    Buy cigarettes
    Apply for welfare
    Apply for food stamps
    Applying for a job
    Apply for social security
    Apply for Medicare/Medicaid
    Pick up a prescription
    Adopt a pet
    Rent furniture
    Rent a hotel room
    Rent a car
    Buy a car
    Buy a bus ticket
    Buy any antihistamine
    Buy a home
    Get a post office box
    Rent an apartment
    Rent a storage unit
    Cash a check
    Pawn goods
    Write a check at the grocery store
    Receive Financial Aid
    Purchase a firearm
    Make any large credit card purchase
    Open a bank account
    Rent an apartment
    Be admitted to a hospital
    Get medical care
    Get a marriage license
    Register for school
    Get on a plane
    Get in to a Democratic fundraiser
    Take the SAT/ACT/LAST/GMAT
    Get a hunting/fishing license
    Get a passport

    but you don’t need one to vote in some states?.

    in Arizona you can also use a utility bill or something similar, you don;t just have to have a state issued ID.

  2. WiseFather says:

    Not going to dignify Frank’s GOP talking point.

    Sean, I’m in District 6 and it’s probably worse. Here’s my description:

    Also, the Voter Photo ID thing is the tip of the iceberg. Does anyone mention how it could be easier to disenfranchise someone based on a photo ID. What if a GOP election judge challenges a Democrat-looking voter believing the license is fake because it says she’s 115 lbs, but looks 160? With a close election there’s a move for more irrationally (I want to see your long-form Photo ID) partisan election judges and poll watchers. I’m gathering more research about the loopholes in the law that these folks might be trying to take advantage of.

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